Root of Israel-Palestine conflict lies in Zionist expansion, suppression of Palestinians

In the aftermath of Hamas' attack, the West has fully thrown its weight behind Israel. Such an approach, however, takes the world further away from addressing the root cause of the Israel-Palestine conflict

With the Hamas’s attack on Israel on October 7, Israel and Palestine have plunged into yet another war. The cruelty of both attacks is beyond words, and as always in such wars, common people on both sides are suffering the most.

In the aftermath of Hamas’s attack on Israel, the major Western powers – America, Britain, France, among others – extended their full solidarity to Israel, and even Prime Minister Narendra Modi issued a statement in support of Israel within hours after it came under attack. Modi who took months to open his mouth on the violence in Manipur, and that too in a very insincere manner, was prompt in conveying his sympathies to Israel. Many columnists fiercely condemned Hamas for starting the war. A number of protests have been taking place across world capitals condemning the Israeli regime’s treatment of Palestinians, and many such protests are either led or seeing the participation of Jews.

Modi’s outright support of Israel is in contravention of India’s longstanding view of the Israel-Palestine conflict. India’s position has always been, in a way, to put in Mahatma Gandhi’s words of 1938, “Palestine belongs to the Arabs as England belongs to the English and France to the French.” Gandhi famously observed that Jews suffered at the hands of Christians, but it cannot be compensated by taking away the land of Palestinians to undo the wrongs of history. Jews were the victims of anti-semitism, which prevailed in Europe. Among many roots of anti-semitism was the feeling that it was Jews who were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Later other trade rivalries were added to this resulting in Adolf Hitler pursuing the worst forms of anti-semitism, by massacring lakhs of Jews.

The displaced Jews had to suffer a lot of discrimination, which resulted in the Zionist movement taking root. Theodore Herzl’s pamphlet, The Jewish State, and a conference of some Jews in 1897 in Switzerland’s Basle further laid the foundations for the Zionist movement. Quoting from the Old Testament in the Bible, Zionists declared that Palestine belonged to Jews and came up with the slogan, ‘A land without a people for a people without a land’. The slogan completely ignored the fact that Palestinians had inhabited the land for over millennia. And, in fact, Palestinians were not only Muslims (86%), but they were also Christian (10%) and Jewish (4%). In the aftermath of that conference, a ‘Jewish National Fund’ was instituted, and Jews from around the world began to relocate to Palestine and bought lands even before Israel was established in 1948.

Even as this trend began to take shape, a large number of Jews opposed Zionism, which appealed to Jews to move to Palestine and urged specifically not to rent or resell their lands to Arabs. The intentions of Zionists were very clear right from the start that they wanted to increase their numbers in the region. As their numbers increased, Palestine came under the British mandate and the local Arabs began to see what was happening to their land. At this point, the British implemented its Balfour Declaration of 1917, which supported “the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine”. The seeds for the present Israel-Palestine conflict were, thus, sowed by the British colonialists.

Jewish writer Arthur Koestler described the Balfour Declaration in the most succinct way, “It was the most improbable document of all the times.” American-Israeli historian Martin Kramer, on the other hand, called the Declaration as something which “constituted the first step towards the objective of political Zionism… narrow, conditional, hedged…”

The Arab resistance to Jewish migration and Britain’s plan to establish a Jewish national home in Palestine began in 1936. It was, however, crushed by the British.

The persecution of Jews by Hitler intensified the immigration of Jews into the area after the Second World War. Interestingly, European countries and America did not encourage Jews to come to their lands. In due course, the historic Palestine was divided into Israel and Palestine, with Jerusalem and Bethlehem brought under international control. The division of land was very much against the interests of Arabs, as 30% of Jews who occupied 7% of the land were given 55% of the land. Palestinians declared this as Al Naqba (Catastrophe) and were forced to occupy 45% of the land.

Israel, however, continues to enjoy the support of the Western powers. Through various wars over the last seven decades, it has extended its territory to the extent that today it occupies over 80% of the original Palestine land mass. The Palestinians have since been dispossessed of their land and are turned into refugees. Today 1.5 million of them have to live in camps with poor facilities. Soon after the establishment of Israel in 1948, around 14 lakh Palestinians were displaced from which emerged a resistance group called the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Leila Khalid was one of its major icons. The other major figure of this resistance was Yasser Arafat, who took the middle path and brought the issue to the global forefront. The Oslo Accord was one such aborted attempt. The solution put forth by the global community – a two-state solution, with Israel and Palestine as independent nations – is not acceptable to Israel, for it does not recognise Palestine. Golda Meir, a former prime minister of Israel, once stated that “there is no such thing as Palestinians”. This, in fact, is the underlying policy of Israel.

The expansion of Israel into Palestinian territories has been an ongoing thing since 1948 and many resolutions of the United Nations have not been followed by Israel, as America stands in support of the Zionist policies of Israel. Israel, for its part, also acts as a collaborator in the American designs to control oil resources in the region. The UN, in its Resolution 3379 in 1975, stated that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination. However, later another resolution rolled back the view.

Palestinians are probably the worst ever sufferers of discrimination and are being exiled from their own land. This is, perhaps, the most cruel outcome of British colonialism and the United States’ imperial designs. With the UN’s influence waning over the last few decades, the question that arises is who will do justice to the Palestinians.

Now, with Hamas’s latest attack, the gross injustice against Palestinians by Israel has intensified, as the West continues to support Israel. However, peace will remain elusive in the region without addressing the root of the problem, which is the Zionist expansionism and suppression of the Palestinians. For lasting solution and peace in West Asia, underlying issues of conflict need to be addressed. One silver lining following the latest conflict is that a number of Jews around the world have been protesting against the high-handedness of Israel. 


You can read Hindi translation of this piece too.

Ram Puniyani

The former Professor, IIT Mumbai is a social activist and commentator

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